Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 16th Pentecost -

Following Jesus is Not Easy
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

 

As you may realize by looking around, I like to use banners and signs to invite new people to join us here at Mt. Olive.  What if we put up a sign that said, “Welcome, everyone who hates their father and mother, wife and children, and brothers and sisters!”  Or how about a sign that said, “You are welcome here IF you give away everything you have!”
 
Yeah, those signs would really work to attract new people, wouldn’t they?  Of course they would not.
 
And, yet, that is what Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson for this 16th Sunday after Pentecost – “Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even life itself cannot be my disciple” and “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all of your possessions.”  And Jesus even adds, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
 
What is Jesus trying to tell us?
 
Scholars and preachers have debated this text for years.  Did Jesus really mean it when he used the word “hate”?  Does the Greek language, the language of the Bible, really translate as “hate”?  Would “disdain” be a better translation?  Is Jesus just getting tired of larger and larger crowds who really don’t seem to care about his message, but are just waiting for another miracle?  Maybe some tough language will scare away those who are just there for a show!
 
Once again, I like scholar David Lose’s “take” on this text - Lose suggests that we should think of Jesus’ talk of the cross in this text as sacrifice.
 
Lose points out that we need to remember once again the context for today’s Gospel lesson, that Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem to make the ultimate sacrifice of his life on the cross to demonstrate God’s love for us.  Thus, it is logical for us to assume that Jesus’ talk of “taking up the cross” implies sacrifices on the part of those who identify as his disciples, whether of selling one’s possessions or bearing the burdens of others or giving up prior allegiances and even relationships, or more.
 
Quote lifeOverDeathLose notes that we have been so led by our culture to think of sacrifice as a bad thing that it’s difficult for us to hear this passage aright.
 
You see, we have been trained to admire those who make sacrifices – Olympic athletes, fire fighters, our women and men serving in the military, etc. – but have also been induced to think that there’s no reason we should ourselves have to sacrifice in an instant-access and immediate-gratification kind of world.
 
And yet we all make sacrifices. Parents make sacrifices to give their children a good life. Innumerable persons seek to finish their schooling or to accomplish something in their career and make sacrifices to do so. Couples sacrifice to marry or start a family. We put off all kinds of “discretionary” purchases to save for a down payment on a home. And not only do we make these sacrifices, but often we do so with a sense of joy.
 
And why do we do this? Because there are sacrifices and then there are sacrifices. Some that lead to greater life, and some that do not. Which, just to be clear, doesn’t mean that life-giving sacrifices are easy or fun or comfortable. Just that they lead to a greater sense of purpose, life, and joy, whereas other sacrifices lead to less life, and sometimes to death.
 
And that can lead us to hear this text a little differently. Jesus is not inviting meaningless sacrifice. He is not inviting door-mat discipleship or a whiney Christianity (“that’s just my cross to bear”). Rather, he’s inviting us to a full-bodied Christian faith that stands over and against all those things that are often presented to us as life by modern culture. Jesus invites us, that is, to the kind of abundant life that is discovered only as you give yourself away. The kingdom of God Jesus proclaims is about life and love. And just as love is one thing that only grows when it’s given away, so also is genuine and abundant life.
 
Once again, I believe this text is about the theology of the cross and its contrast to the theology of glory.
 
The theology of glory is what I would call pop Christianity or misguided Christianity.  It implies that if you believe just this way, if you pray just this way, everything will go well for you.  So many television evangelists preach this theology, some even adding that if you send them money, things will go even better for you!
 
In today’s lesson Jesus is teaching us about the theology of the cross.  Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he knows he will be captured, tortured and killed.  This is no time for childish beliefs – it is time for his followers, some or even many of whom are still expecting him to become an earthly king, to realize that Jesus brings something quite different – the love of God for everyone, yes, but with some expectations that this love will change lives.
 
Jesus’ theology of the cross means that those of us who believe in Jesus will not be spared any of the problems and troubles of this life.  We will just be able to get through them better, knowing of God’s overarching love for us and having the assurance of salvation, an assurance which allows us to step out in faith and love for others.
 
No where is this clearer than in the current political environment.  Our faith, Christianity, calls us to welcome the stranger, whether that stranger is the homeless person on our streets or a new immigrant, whether that person follows our faith, another faith or no faith, whether that person follows the Tea Party or Black Lives Matter.  Jesus could not be more clear than in today’s lesson – following Jesus has its benefits but Jesus also expects us to live lives filled with love and care for others.  Sacrificial lives, if you will.
 
As Dr. Lose notes, such sacrifices are not easy. Some around us may very well not understand why we spend less on ourselves in order to give more to others or why we’d invest our time and resources on a person or effort the culture considers a lost cause. The choices we make, the relationships we decide to pursue, the way we spend this life we’ve been given, may cause not just puzzlement but dissatisfaction, even upset, among those we care about. But the question before us, as put so fiercely by Moses in the first reading, is whether we will choose life or death.
 
The challenge, of course, is that such a choice is not always as clear as we’d like. Sometimes we get just plain confused about what is the right choice, the life-giving choice. And sometimes we may hear the Jesus’ voice calling us to sacrifice for the sake of life but it gets all but drowned out by the cultural voices holding out success and accumulation and security as life. And sometimes the choices in front of us are just incredibly ambiguous.
 
Which is why Jesus makes his own sacrifice, of course. To assure us of God’s love and forgiveness, so that whether we are confused, overwhelmed, unclear, or just choose badly, yet the promise of life is always in front of us. This promise of God’s unconditional love frees us to choose life, which is the way the Gospel always works, creating the very thing it asks for.
Jesus is calling us to follow him and making it clear that following Jesus will not always be easy and may even be difficult.  And, following Jesus may involve sacrifices.  But, what Jesus offers is this:  By making sacrifices for others, we receive much more, and we choose life over death.
 
Not glory, but the cross.  Not death, but life.
 
Amen.
 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California


Following Jesus is Not Easy
Sermon for 16th Pentecost
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
September 4, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California

 

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